Funding cuts affect students’ campaignState cuts to tobacco cessation funding have impacted youth as well. In the Maple School District, a project that has been warning students of the dangers of smoking for more than a dozen years faces extinction.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
State cuts to tobacco cessation funding have impacted youth as well. In the Maple School District, a project that has been warning students of the dangers of smoking for more than a dozen years faces extinction.
Carinda Larson can still remember when high school DECA – an association of marketing students – gave her sixth-grade class a presentation on smoking.
“One of the girls was a basketball player,” she said. “I looked up to her.”
This year, 17-year-old Larson was the presenter. With fellow Northwestern High School seniors Adam Olson and Timmy Follis, she urged students in fourth through eighth grade to “Knock Out Tobacco” with a multi-media presentation.
In past years, the Douglas County Tobacco Free Coalition has provided funding for the project. This year, state cuts kept them from doing so. Other grant applications fell flat, as well. The trio of NHS seniors had two options – do it, or let it drop.
“I think it’s important to get the message out,” Timmy said.
So they funded the project themselves.
“A lot of the stuff we’ve done has come out of our pockets,” Adam said. The students chipped in for gas to drive to Iron River and Northwestern elementary schools, prizes for the kids and other items. In past years, they have been able to put up a billboard, give pizza parties for poster contest winners and invite guest speakers in. All those were nixed this year.
“We made it a point to see every fourth and fifth grade class,” Carinda said. And they will give their presentation to students at Northwestern Middle School during Red Ribbon Week in January.
Tobacco use by minors is a concern in the area. The Wisconsin WINS program sends 16-year-olds into stores to try to purchase tobacco. During a recently round of compliance checks in Douglas County, 18 businesses sold tobacco to the minors, said Superior Police Capt. Matt Markon.
“This year’s number of violations is far greater than years past,” Markon said. “Last year there were two violations.”
Some of the retail outlets had a clerk working who checked the juvenile’s ID card and still sold the tobacco. Others didn’t check the ID at all.
And many tobacco companies are marketing directly to youth.
“If you look at the line up of products, candy flavored tobacco is taking a bigger portion of shelf size,” said Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of SmokeFree Wisconsin. “It’s hard to believe that a 30 year old chewer wants sicky-sweet cherry flavored chew, or grape, or mango. These companies aren’t going away and if we don’t counter them, they will lure more to a deadly addiction.”
The Northwestern DECA students know their project made a difference. A number of students came up after the presentation and talked about their parents, who smoked. They were given informational letters to bring home. Eleven students entered the poster contest.
“Do You Want This To Be You?” wrote Timmy Hissa, a fourth grader, on his poster. Underneath, a person is wheeled away in an ambulance.
“Tobacco has tar which is used to make roads,” wrote another student.
“Tell a joke. Don’t smoke,” was the banner on one poster.
The list has been narrowed to three possible winners – Hissa, Deitrich Raivala and Caitlin Westlund. Because of the lack of funding, the prize is still a “surprise.”
Jody Forsythe, DECA advisor, said the project provided a real-life lesson.
“No matter what kind of obstacles you have to overcome, you can reach your goal by being creative,” she said.
The trio of seniors wondered if future classes will take the same approach, or jettison the project.
“It’s something we’d really be sad to see go,” Carinda said.